How the Multiverse Works: A Guide for Skeptics


You can’t avoid the internet’s popular catchphrase, the “Metaverse,” whether you’re at a live performance in the engaging and interactive Fortnite multiverse, a virtual art exhibit in Decentraland, or bumping into Mark Zuckerberg’s haunting digital prototype as he revealed Facebook relaunched as Meta.

But just what is this mysterious Metaverse, anyway? Is it like escaping into an ever-expanding virtual world? Is this a hypothetical science-fiction internet dystopia? Is it simply a fancier way of talking about augmented, digital, and mixed reality (XR)?

The term “Metaverse” conjures up images of early internet conferences from the 1970s and 1980s. Insight into the new mode of communication’s appearance and its applications was spurred by its foundations. Many people were discussing it, however, few understood the meaning or the way it would function. In retrospect, the outcome was not what many had hoped for.

It’s time to figure out what this nebulous and complicated phrase means, however, given that the Metaverse will be worth $800 billion by 2024 and that internet behemoths like Facebook (Meta) are already investing heavily in the space. Microsoft, Google, and Apple are also spending heavily to bring it to life.

Since the vast majority of us have yet to grasp the concept of the “Metaverse,” we consulted a panel of specialists to help us out.

What, then, is this mysterious “Metaverse”?

The phrase “Metaverse,” which has been used increasingly over the last several years, Neal Stephenson’s novella, Snow Crash, from 1992 is credited with popularizing the term. Stephenson defines the Metaverse as a parallel digital universe to our own. As of 2022, though, it’s still not clear if the real-world Metaverse has the same potential to grow in a similar way.

Mathew Ball is an angel investor and venture capitalist who wrote a number of articles about the Metaverse’s architecture and possibilities and told VICE that the Metaverse is like the Internet and computers in general but in 3D.

Ball argues that two interpretations are valid in this situation.

In the early days of the internet and computers, communication was limited to text (emails, email addresses, usernames, messages). Later, they shifted to focus more on the media (live streams, images, videos). With 3D, it’s possible that the interface and experience will evolve to the next level. Second, just like we can always use the internet and a computer because of our phones, we can always use the Metaverse, which is inside every computer and every part of the internet.

The Metaverse has been likened by several experts to a 3D version of the web. You may compare it to living in a digital version of another reality in which users communicate with one another using graphical representations of themselves (called “avatars”). Others maintain that the full potential of the Metaverse has not yet been realized.

As the first head at the University of New Haven’s Connecticut Institute of Technology and a leading authority in cybersecurity, Ibrahim Baggili told VICE, that currently, it is not a reality, and won’t manifest itself in its fullness till each individual has a single spot they may enter a digital realm where they can perhaps establish a new life.

The concept of the “Metaverse,” which is sometimes described as “the internet in three dimensions,” is widely regarded as the natural progression of technology.

As the vice president in charge of Unity Software’s augmented reality and virtual reality divisions,Timoni West argued, the 1990s use of the phrase “information superhighway” to describe the internet was a better metaphor for interconnectivity as opposed to an actual road. For those interested in game development, Unity Software is a business that specializes in graphics engines. On VICE, she predicted that the Metaverse is going to evolve into something comparable to our own reality in terms of variety, fluidity, and decentralization as time went on.

Although definitions of the Metaverse vary from situation to situation, at its core, It’s a realistic, dynamic, and social virtual space for teamwork. Included in this would be your digital identity and possessions, which are likely to be kept on a distributed ledger called a blockchain.

Really? Then it’s not simply a video game after all?

The Metaverse is much bigger than any video game could ever be, yet it seems that the gaming industry has already embraced its most basic form. Consider a game such as Fortnite, which is a kind of multiplayer online game in which individuals command digital representations of themselves and engage in combat with other participants. They also earn in-game cash that they can use to buy new clothes and other ways to customize their characters.

Second Life, an immersive virtual reality game where the player’s avatar can go grocery shopping, take a shower, and do other things in a virtual version of the real world, comes closest to realizing the potential of the imagined Metaverse.

Technologists say that the Metaverse is going to change the way people use VR by letting them use digital avatars to buy real estate, have virtual parties, and get hitched if you will.

Now that I’ve made it this far, how can I really enter the “Metaverse proper”?

Although at the current moment there is no one portal via which one may enter the Metaverse, experts recommend investing in gear to maximize your experience. You may acquire a virtual reality headset for as little as $10 with Google Cardboard, $300 with Oculus Quest 2, or $999 with the high-end Valve Index VR.

An expert in cybersecurity, Baggili likens the existing Metaverse architecture to the Apple App Store. It’s possible to experience VR, AR, and XR on a wide variety of different devices at the moment, each providing its own unique set of features and functions, just like the thousands of applications available in the App Store. However, there is no central hub through which users may access it, similar to the way Yahoo served as a gateway for web surfers in the 1990s.

This explains why digital goliaths are branching out into seemingly unrelated industries like real estate and live performance, as well as virtual workplaces and video games. Axie Infinity, Fortnite, Roblox, Decentraland, Sandbox, and Horizon are all examples of such systems.

The use of a virtual reality headset is sometimes recommended for experiencing the Metaverse, however, many experts disagree.

Ball made the point that with mobile phones in our pockets, Alexas in our homes, and cameras everywhere, we are always connected to the Internet. We’ll use our phones to enter the Metaverse most of the time, but most of the time we’ll just be observers. In the present day, several hundred million people use their smartphones and tablets to get access to 3D virtual realms that are rendered in real-time. In the next 10 years, these gadgets will still be the most common way to enter the Metaverse.

Getting into the Metaverse through a mobile device or computer removes some of the immersion, but it’s a great way to explore what all the fuss is about.

So, why bother with the Metaverse if it serves no practical purpose?

The Metaverse is expected to play a significant role in the expansion of economic activity in the digital realm due to its great potential value.

According to Ball, economic activity in the digital realm is the key growth engine of the global economy, and it will expand thanks to the Metaverse.

Many people think of the Metaverse because it is the wave of the future in media, style, games, and even socializing. However, experts say that it will be most useful in education.

When compared to other methods of instruction, like Zoom, Ball believes that 3D-based teaching will be far superior. Baggili is in agreement. Buying nonexistent virtual nations may be a good way to make some fast cash, but the true potential of the Metaverse lies in its application to improving people’s lives in meaningful ways.

Baggili gave his pupils virtual reality headgear and tried to teach them forensics as an experiment. It did what it was supposed to do, which was to record crime scene details and set up a repeatable scenario for subsequent use. But, he said, even their eyes felt weary, also, after a time, it became hard to focus on computer work. Even though the technology and how it is used could be helpful in some situations, like using augmented reality to train auto mechanics or using remote repairs to help a person stuck in an elevator, there is still room for improvement.

To what extent, however, do we risk harm by interacting with the Metaverse?

Fictional touchstones for the Metaverse, such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One, are often situated in bleak dystopias.

Whether the Metaverse can provide a trustworthy immersive setting is a crucial one in the surrounding debate. A woman claimed last year that people were sexually harassing her and “essentially gang-raped” her on Facebook. Experts on digital privacy also say the Metaverse is the most intrusive way for the government to watch us.

The Metaverse would monitor more than just your eyes and hands; it would also record information about the layout of the room you’re in. Since being harassed online can have real-world effects, Baggili says that there needs to be a legal structure for dealing with such situations.

He continued by saying that the Metaverse requires faith in technology, it’s quite similar to using Google Maps to get instructions, even if we can’t be sure it will take us to the proper place. If we are serious about making progress in this area of technology, there are a lot of legal issues we need to consider and aggressively pursue.

So, in a few decades, will I be a resident of the Metaverse?

According to some analysts, most people will be using Metaverse features in some capacity by 2030. But there is still a lot of work to be done on the subject, despite the present fixation on it. The availability of the necessary equipment is the first obstacle. The necessity for cross-platform portability of virtual goods like clothing and vehicles is another important consideration. According to several specialists, the proper functioning of the Metaverse depends on this. Other than determining who will serve as law enforcement in this area, legal and economic hurdles will need to be surmounted. Additionally, the likelihood of anyone desiring to spend lots of time inside the Metaverse is in question.

Maybe we’ll just dip in and out of the Metaverse; we like trying out VR gear, but we seldom wear the goggles for more than a few minutes at a time. Perhaps ten years from now, we’ll look back on this piece and chuckle at how stupid we were to doubt the meteoric development of the Metaverse.

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